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Central Book Exchange in the Heart of Sugar House Offers More than Books

Unlike a big-box store that has dozens of locations and massive inventory, this 2000 square foot store has more to offer than simply the latest and greatest books. The staff of seven are personally invested in the joy and success of every customer. 


Where can you find a complete set of Victor Hugo’s works from 1880, The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, an illustrated Book of Mormon, and I Can Has Cheezburger? in one place? Central Book Exchange in Sugar House has them all.

In the late 1960s, Don Bowles launched a mail-service romance novel business. Eventually, the original owner opened a physical storefront that has been on 1100 E and 2017 S ever since.  

Pam Pedersen, owner of Central Book Exchange. Photo by Jack Merlot.

Pam Pedersen, the owner since 2005, saw a diamond in the rough.

“After the mid-80s, the whole way the store should have been running didn’t work any more,” Pedersen said.

She gets her thrills from the expressions of readers finding something they connect with. “Their faces light up,“ she exclaimed. “From the first day I was here, there is magic in this bookstore. It mostly comes from all of us that are here, and it comes from the history and the people.”

What makes Central Book Exchange different from other used book stores?

“We have a really organized inventory. I hear from people all the time that it’s uncommon to go into a used book store and have everything cataloged. You want to be able to come in like a normal book store and find what you are looking for,” Pedersen said. 

Unlike a big-box store that has dozens of locations and massive inventory, this 2000 square foot store has more to offer than simply the latest and greatest books. The staff of seven are personally invested in the joy and success of every customer. 

“Everyone together creates the genius,” Pedersen explained. 

Jack Merlot, an employee since October 2020, also thrives on customer interaction and fulfilling dreams. 

“You can’t get a sense of community through Amazon,” Merlot said. “We find these books that aren’t being read anymore. It’s really sustainable.”

‘Exchange’ means you can bring in your gently used books to be assessed for in-store credit. If you don’t have anything to trade, the inventory is still wide open. Most books go for less than $20 each.

Chain booksellers have a lot of little. A local bookstore has a little of a lot. Where else can you find books about pets communicating from the afterlife, and a Shakespearean version of Star Wars: A New Hope?

The Exchange also carries new versions of classic novels and the viral-popular titles that are always in demand and almost impossible to find used.  

“We order new books every week and we go on our own gut. We know what people are yearning for,” Pedersen said.

For the past few months, Dune has been hard to keep on the shelves. Before then it was the books in A Court of Thorns and Roses series. 

While many books fly off the shelves into a new owner’s pocket, some books bounce between storefront and storage for several years. 

Finding just the right book. Photo by Erin Dixon.

“There are some books that are waiting for the right person,” Merlot said. 

“I had someone come in saying, ‘I’ve been looking for this book for 10 years.’ We had had it for a long time. it was in the back … the exact edition they had as a kid. The joy on people’s faces when they find something they’ve been looking for is unparalleled and is so rewarding.”

Sugar House has been under construction to improve the accessibility for public transit, bikes and pedestrians. Even though the shop has made it through the last 50 years, will the business survive the massive overhaul?

“The construction sucks,” Pedersen said. “We’re living in a war zone over here. For a while it seemed like it was going to be okay, but now … I can’t even believe anyone turns onto the street. We have a ton of walk-in business in general, but the way everything is looking, they’re going to pull our sidewalks out and we’re going to have a big pit in front of our store.”

Construction in the area is slated for completion by the end of June 2024, but the topsy-turvy Utah weather may not cooperate. 

“[In April], the rain slowed them down quite a bit,” Pedersen said. “They were supposed to have the sidewalks out already.”

Photo by Erin Dixon.

Merlot has a few ideas to keep the store afloat until accessibility is restored. “We’re just trying to bring more people in,” he said. “You can walk to us. We recently posted on social media a little ‘how-to’ video of how to get to the store.”

Once everything is completed, the hope is that the store will be even easier to get to.

“What they have planned is really awesome,” Merlot said. “They’re making it more pedestrian friendly. They’re slowing down traffic. They’re giving the trees more room to grow. The process really sucks. There’s supposed to be a big event in the last week of June to celebrate the reopening of the Sugar House District.”

Until then, the team brainstormed some solutions to get them through. One is a continuation of what helped them through 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

“[During the pandemic] we had people do appointments in the warehouse,” Pedersen said. “We encouraged people to pick up or buy things online. It was kind of terrible but good things came from it too. We are currently working out details for a loyalty program! We want to make sure that people who keep the book they buy can still get discounts by supporting the bookstore. We are also planning more events, many of which include working with local authors and other members of our community,” Merlot said.

Summer parking lot sale. Photo by Jack Merlot.

The Exchange hosts special events such as book signings with local authors, double points months, and customer appreciation nights. Once a year at the end of July, the Exchange hosts a two-day, sweltering yet spectacular, parking lot sale. Books that have not yet found their perfect partner are available for a screaming deal.If the distance, traffic or time is too daunting for an in-person visit, there are thousands of books still offered online.

Feature Image: Inside Central Book Exchange by Jack Merlot.

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